The Cover-Up Is Always Worse Than The Concussion — Central Michigan University’s Head Gymnastics Coach Fired for Inducing Athletes to Hide Injuries

Nov 22, 2019

By: Kacie E. Kergides, Esq., Dylan F. Henry, Esq., Kimberly L. Sachs, Esq.
In a time where sport-related concussions are such a hot topic and much is known about their potential short-term and long-term effects, coaches should not be advising their student-athletes to hide their concussion symptoms and lie to the medical staff. Yet, this is exactly what Central Michigan University (“CMU”) head gymnastics coach Jerry Reighard (“Reighard”) allegedly did in the beginning of 2019. In discussing the scandal surrounding Reighard, this article highlights the need for universities to not only incorporate independent medical monitoring systems, but also enforce those systems in order to protect their student-athletes.
Revealing The Truth Behind Reighard’s Program
Reighard has been the head coach of CMU’s women’s gymnastics program since 1984 but in February 2019, CMU placed him on administrative leave after allegations arose that he attempted “to induce an athlete to lie about or cover up concussion symptoms.”[1]
Following the allegations, CMU began an internal investigation that led to Reighard’s termination in April 2019.[2] The investigation involved “over two dozen interviews” with current team members and medical and athletics staff, and ultimately resulted in a 121-page report that cited to “egregious misconduct” by Reighard.[3] CMU also interviewed Reighard in connection with the investigation and, upon concluding the investigation, CMU provided Reighard with its investigatory report. Reighard responded, and despite receiving and reviewing his response, CMU still chose to terminate his employment.[4]
Though the 121-page report was not released to the public, CMU’s official statement gave some insight into the results of the investigation. The report stated that Reighard attempted to undermine the university’s concussion management plan by continuously disregarding the medical staff and their independent role in assessing injuries.[5] In addition, the report confirmed that Reighard “created a hostile atmosphere contradictory to CMU’s independent medical model which gives team physicians and athletic trainers authority to determine the management of injuries without interference from coaches.”[6]
In a press release, Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics, Michael Alford, stated that “[o]ur student-athletes and their families trust us to protect our students. We will not tolerate a callous disregard of safety. We will not tolerate actions that put students in the way of significant and even life-threatening injuries. Student safety at Central Michigan University is an absolute priority, always.”[7] In addition, CMU recognized that Reighard’s transgressions could lead to NCAA violations and stated they will fully-cooperate with the NCAA by self-reporting the matter.[8]
Uncovering Reighard’s Personnel File
In early 2019, Central Michigan Life, the CMU’s student-run campus media company, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in an attempt to access Reighard’s personnel file.[9] After receiving the file, Central Michigan Life published pages from it in a story on March 28, 2019.[10] While the file contained both positive and negative reviews of Reighard dating back to when he first started at CMU, it revealed multiple incidents in which Reighard was reported to have mishandled medical situations.[11] A team physician wrote a letter to Reighard last year expressing concerns about Reighard referring athletes to outside doctors and bringing in outside doctors to campus.[12] There were several notes in the file citing to multiple instances, one as recently as 2018, of Reighard engaging in this type of activity.[13]
In addition to the letter from the team physician, there were multiple letters from parents and gymnasts voicing their disdain and complaints about Reighard.[14] One parent specifically wrote about how Reighard completely mishandled her daughter’s injury, stating “[s]he called me in tears because her ankle was so swollen and hurt so much she hadn’t slept in 3 nights.”[15] It continued on to accuse Reighard of verbally abusing her, alleging that he told her she was “babying herself and her ankle, not having heart to work through her injury.”[16] In addition to complaints about the mismanagement of injuries, the file also contained at least six citations that Reighard received for going over the weekly practice-time limits set by the NCAA.[17]
Takeaways from the Incident
Many articles have come out recently discussing the need for Division 1 athletic programs to change their reporting structures as they pertain to student-athletes’ injuries. This incident further highlights the need for that change. Too many reports have surfaced of head coaches influencing their medical staff’s decisions and autonomy, with some of most recent incidents coming from the University of North Carolina’s women’s basketball team and the University of Maryland’s football team. Further, a National Athletic Trainers’ Association (“NATA”) survey released on June 25, 2019, revealed that nineteen percent of athletic trainers said that college coaches have played an athlete who was “medically out of participation,” and fifty-eight percent of athletic trainers felt pressure from a coach or administrator to make a decision that was “not in the best interest of a student-athlete’s health.”
In a high pressure environment where a coach’s job depends on wins, head coaches have a strong interest in making sure their star players suit up for the games, which can lead to them interfering with medical decisions. Decisions revolving around student-athletes’ injuries need to be completely separated from not only head coaches, but the entire coaching staff. Schools such as University of Maryland and University of Kansas have recently adopted a medical model reporting structure, but maybe it is time the NCAA mandates independent medical care in order to avoid endangering the health and safety of student-athletes.
Despite the fact that CMU claimed to have an independent medical model, Reighard was able to maneuver around the system. Universities and their athletic departments not only need an independent medical staff and reporting structure, but, they also need to audit, monitor, and enforce those structures. As CMU stated, these school have a duty to protect the health and safety of their student-athletes, and that begins with supervising their head coaches, and removing them from the medical decision making process.
Scott Anderson, head athletic trainer for the University of Oklahoma’s football team, points out that at the end of the day, “it comes down to an institutional solution.” Schools can have medical reporting lines, Anderson explained, but “if coaches still hold authority and there is no accountability from the athletic departments, the reporting lines do not matter;” these issues are going to continue unless someone has the courage to say something but most, according to Anderson, are fearful of losing their positions, scholarships, and jobs.
This incident also demonstrates that universities and their athletic departments all need to review their coaches’ personnel files and investigate any complaints that have been made against their coaches. From Reighard’s file, it is clear that there were many incidents over the course of many years that should have raised red flags. Hopefully now, as another head coach is exposed, universities will understand the importance of independent medical reporting structure and continued monitoring of their coaches and staff.
Dylan Henry, Kim Sachs, and Kacie Kergides are associates in Montgomery McCracken’s Litigation Department and members of the firm’s catastrophic sports injury defense team. The team represents universities, schools, athletic trainers, and other sports programs and staff in a variety of sports-related and head injury litigation, which include claims for negligence (e.g., failure to warn, premature return to play), products liability, breach of contract, and professional malpractice, and advises clients on complying with various rules, regulations, and laws, and maintaining policies in compliance with best practices and industry standards.
[1] Gymnastics coach Reighard terminated for cause, CMU Chippewas, Apr. 18, 2019,; Tony Paul, CMU fires gymnastics coach for urging athlete to lie about concussion, The Detroit News, Apr. 18, 2019,
[2] Gymnastics coach Reighard terminated for cause, CMU Chippewas, Apr. 18, 2019,
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Gymnastics coach Reighard terminated for cause, CMU Chippewas, Apr. 18, 2019,
[8] Id.
[9] Evan Petzold, Breaking: University investigates Jerry Reighard for asking gymnast to lie about injuries, Central Michigan Life, Mar. 27, 2019,
[10] Evan Petzgold, ‘They’re Afraid of Jerry’: Deep dive into past of gymnastics coach Jerry Reighard, Central Michigan Life, Mar. 28, 2019,
[11] Tony Paul, CMU fires gymnastics coach for urging athlete to lie about concussion, The Detroit News, Apr. 18, 2019,
[12] Id.
[13] Id.
[14] Tony Paul, CMU gymnastics coach accused of urging athletes to lie about injuries, The Detroit News, Mar. 28, 2019,
[15] Id.
[16] Id.
[17] Id.


Articles in Current Issue